Just Hanging Out...and Learning
This week has been crazy to say the least. On the other hand, it has been phenomenal!
Tuesday, my 2nd hour seventh grade class began an adventure I felt was worth taking. For quite some time a writing project colleague and myself had discussed having our classes collaborate with each other using Google Hangout. If you do not have prior knowledge of Google Hangout, it is just that, an online space for people to collaborate via web cams and voice chat, or...hangout! I believe up to 10 people can chat at the same time. The idea was brought on by our discussions we have had previously about using digital portfolios. Eventually we decided we wanted our students to collaborate and discuss the myths that each our classrooms were reading and writing along with have the students publish their writing to a broader audience.
As we searched for a common time for our students to meet online, it occurred to us that we needed to introduce our students to each other before we did any real collaboration about the myths. Each of our classes had written "This I Believe" essays, and we decided we would use these essays as a mean for our students to get to know one another. Because my own students had already written their essays at the beginning of the year, it was a great time for my students to reflect back on their writing to polish it and decide if their beliefs had changed at all. Furthermore, they needed to understand their writing was going out into the bigger world for people to see and they needed to clean it up before publishing.
Prior to work with the essays, we showed our classes our school websites, discussing with students what they noticed. In addition, any questions they might have. Before our meeting on Tuesday each of our classes composed questions to ask one another. As we were hanging out, the students went in front of the camera and asked questions about each other's school. For example:
- What types of writing have you done this year?
- How many students do you have in your middle school?
- What sports can you play at your school
- What do you do for fun?
- Can you choose your own electives in middle school?
After the students took turns asking questions and answering them, we talked with the students about what we were going to do next with them.
As I mentioned earlier, the students are using their "This I Believe Essay" to get to know each other more. My colleague and I decided we would have the students post their essays on Youth Voices (youthvoices.net). Youth Voices is an online platform where students can publish their writing where other students can discuss the same topics or issues. By having the students post here, they could read each other's essays and respond appropriately.
This allows the students to see what beliefs they may have in common or what they may not have in common as well. Regardless, we feel that our students are now publishing their writing for a broader audience besides their teacher or classmates. Furthermore, they will get feedback that can have the potential to make them better writers in the future. After our students have posted to Youth Voices and everyone has had a chance to be paired up to respond to at least one other student, we will move forward and participate in doing more live hangouts where our students can discuss myths.
Doing something this simple with technology has long lasting impacts on the students from each class. First, I would like to say our schools are very different when it comes to the dynamics of the number of students and the cultural diversity. My middle school consists of 120 seventh and eighth graders. My colleague has just over 500 in the same two grades. My school consists of about 98% whites where his school has Latinos, Hispanics, Arab, African American, and whites. With this being said, I felt it was wonderful for my students to be emerged into this type of cultural diversity. Our students need to learn they will be working with a very diverse culture when they enter the work force.
I was also surprised at how my students "locked up" when it came time to talk on camera. They were dead silent and if it wasn't for the fact I had students assigned for each question being asked, I would not have had volunteers. My students were very shy and I was shocked at this. In the end, when it came to them talking on camera, they needed to speak up too. My colleague actually felt his students were rude and too loud. A concern, I actually thought was going to arise.
Overall, Google Hangout and Youth Voices are great tools, especially ones that can help meet the demands of the Common Core Standards. The ideas behind using the online tools were to:
- Practice communication skills
- Publish student writing to a broader audience
- Receive feedback on student writing
- Become connected with other learners
- Be exposed to more diversity as is such in the real world